By Doyle Roth
Remember as a child how we looked forward to the summer break from school? Then there was the anticipation of waiting for the family vacation. Whether it was a trip to the beach, the mountains, or Disneyland, the excitement would build as the date approached.
As adults we still mesmerize ourselves with expectations of grand and glorious places and events. Dreams and hope for the future are a part of many facets of our lives. There is anticipation when we leave home to go to college. There is excitement as the graduation date finally approaches. We can’t wait to buy our first house. When we think of a big trip across the country, or to Europe or Hawaii, we call it “the trip of a lifetime.” Perhaps it is the growing anticipation of a family holiday or a wedding. We can’t wait for it to arrive with all its grandeur and promises for smiles and fulfillment. As the date approaches, we can’t stop thinking about it and talking about it.
Better than any trip or holiday on earth will be the day we arrive in Heaven and see the face of Jesus. It seems like we spend more time and energy in planning special days and material investments than in preparing for and anticipating our time in eternity.
Through some difficult circumstances, I was challenged to evaluate my hopes and dreams. Are my goals and plans in life all centered around this world, or do I long to join Jesus in Heaven?
A few years ago, my wife, Jean, and I were involved in a serious car accident. We were both left with several fractures and a long road to recovery. Jean fractured her sternum and ribs, and had serious bruising. I suffered fractures in both legs and an arm. It left me bedridden for some time and then confined to a wheelchair for months. Following the accident, I began to hear a phrase that confused and sometimes angered me. The phrase? “Doyle, you are so lucky to be alive.”
Now, I know what was intended by that phrase. Anyone looking at our smashed car was amazed we were alive. Anyone who knew the seriousness of the accident and how long it took the medical team to extricate me from the car, would have doubted I could survive it.
However, for Christians to use the phrase “you are so lucky to be alive” left me bewildered. I was in miserable pain for weeks. What would have been so bad about death? I would be in Heaven.
After surgery and a hospital stay, I came home to lie in a hospital bed in our dining room. During the days and weeks of extreme pain that followed, I began to think a lot about life—and I did not feel so “lucky.” I could be here in miserable pain—or enjoying the peace of Heaven.
I longed for the pain to end. I began to think a lot about Heaven and how close Jean and I came to being there that Thursday afternoon in June. We could be there together enjoying all the beauty and wonderment God has prepared for us. And yet—we were being told—“you are so lucky to be alive.”
Now I should state I am not a fatalist and I certainly do enjoy life. Jean and I are blessed with a wonderful church, a good family, children who love the Lord, and many friends. Life is good for us. I have reflected and prayed many times about how we understand our life of serving God on earth and our hope of Heaven. I have had to ask the question many times, “Do we as Christians really have a hope for Heaven?”
As recorded in John 14:2, 3, Jesus said,
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Of all the plans we could ever make for a new house, none could compare to what Jesus is preparing for us. Why aren’t we excited about being with Jesus face-to-face and seeing what he has designed for us?
Have we become bored with the topic of Heaven, or do we love this world and all the things of it so much that we have become nearsighted and can’t see beyond it? We sing words like these:
Onward to the prize before us!
Soon his beauty we’ll behold.
Soon the pearly gates will open.
We shall tread the streets of gold.
When we all get to Heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.
Do we really see it as a day of rejoicing? Do we really long to see the face of Jesus?
I recently heard someone on the platform at a church ask, “How many want to go to Heaven?” There was a loud response of “Yes!” Then he asked, “How many want to go tonight?” The response was not as strong, but there was still a “Yes.” I was pleased! Then to my dismay the leader said, “Well not me. Not tonight. There are still some things I want to do and places I want to go.” Now that is interesting.
It was as if he were saying, “God, I believe everything the Bible says about Heaven being beyond anything we can describe in earthly terms, however there are some things here on earth I prefer.
“God, I know Heaven is great, but I really want to go to Disneyland first.
“God, I know I will get to see Jesus face-to-face, but I really want to go to Hollywood and see my favorite movie star first.
“God, I know there will be peace and rest in Heaven, but I really want to lay on the beach in Hawaii first.”
Do we really believe in Heaven? Do we really have the hope the Bible speaks of? Do we long to see the face of Jesus? Or are we more in love with this world?
It seems many hold on to Heaven more as fire insurance than what they hope for. They do not long for the place God has prepared for them. Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said it best in Philippians 1:21-24:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
We are not lucky to be alive. We are to live in the fullness of Christ and demonstrate his grace to everyone we encounter. God designed this beautiful world for his glory and our enjoyment. The blessings in this life are for our joy and his pleasure. But let us never lose sight that he has planned another place far better. We will be in his presence. There is nothing this world could ever offer that would be better.
Do you love Jesus so much that you anticipate the day when you will see him face-to-face? That will not be a lucky day. That will be the day of the Lord!
Doyle Roth is executive minister of Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, Missouri, where he and his wife, Jean, have served since 1988. They have two children, Joseph and Joy.
He previously had a student ministry with Parkwood Christian Church in Maryland Heights, Missouri; a youth ministry in Effingham, Illinois; and a six-year associate ministry in Union, Missouri.
Doyle received BS and BA degrees from St. Louis Christian College in Missouri; an MA degree from Cincinnati (Ohio) Bible Seminary; and an MMin at Kentucky Christian College in Grayson. Further studies have been at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Seminary.
In July 1992 Ben Merold became senior minister of Harvester Christian Church. Since that time it has grown from an average of 250 to 3,000 in attendance. The growth of the church has brought about many changes in leadership styles as well as outreach and ministry. The staff has grown from two to eight full-time ministers.
Doyle is a past local arrangements chairman for the North American Christian Convention and currently serves on the 2008 Executive Committee. He has led workshops and training sessions on practical ministries, worship, leadership, and spiritual growth.